Boy With Down Syndrome Joins Reality Show Cast
LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. — When the A&E series “Born This Way” debuted in December 2015, Amy Amaradio and Chris Keller were both eager and apprehensive to see this reality series about young singles with Down syndrome making their way in the world.
The series, which won an Emmy as outstanding unstructured reality program last year, features seven young men and women living their lives and pursuing their dreams. And when it started to tell those stories, Keller and Amaradio, who own and operate several businesses in Laguna Beach including the La Casa del Camino hotel, were still early in their life with Rocco, their then-2-year-old son who also was born with Down syndrome.
“I was so beyond excited when I found out there was going to be a show with young adults who have Down syndrome,” Amaradio says. “And at that point I was a little nervous about looking into the future, because Rocco was so young.”
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But as that first episode unfolded, she and Keller quickly realized what a blessing the series was to parents like them.
“I think I cried the entire episode because it just hit so many emotions for me as a mom who has a son with Down syndrome,” Amaradio says. “I was happy, sad, all those emotions. And I realized after that first episode, this is a good, good show. It’s not exploiting these young adults, it’s just raising awareness and showing that people with Down syndrome can do whatever they put their hearts and minds to.”
Flash to May when “Born This Way” returned for its third season. In addition to the seven young people at the center of the show — who include Orange County residents Steven Clark, Rachel Osterbach, and Sean McElwee — the series now includes Rocco and his parents Keller and Amaradio, who say their journey from fans and viewers to cast members is mostly a tale of luck and coincidence.
“We just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Keller says. “We’re very involved in the Down syndrome community, and through that we’ve meet a lot of the current cast and producers.”
Last year their friend Shana Stabler, a singer who is also friends with McElwee, was shooting a music video that included Rocco and Amaradio. At a viewing party, “Born This Way” executive producer Laura Korkoian, whom Keller and Amaradio had already met once or twice, was there with some of the cast, and made a soft pitch to the couple to consider coming onto the show.
“She asked us one day, ‘Hey, do you think I could come over to your home and talk to you guys?'” Amaradio says.
“At first we were a little hesitant,” Keller says. “We just thought we were maybe a little too introverted and not the type for it.”
But after they spent time with Korkoian, and thought about her offer, Keller says they realized that being on the show would let them do even more to raise consciousness about Down syndrome than they’d already accomplished.
“We just hope that it helps parents with a newly diagnosed child,” Amaradio says. “To give them hope, to give them encouragement. To let them know that it’s not scary, it’s a blessing. You’ll get to experience the incredible love that you have when you have a child with Down syndrome.”
And for parents who get the diagnosis during pregnancy, and consider ending that pregnancy with an abortion, she says that maybe if they see the love expressed in families like those on “Born This Way” some will decide to carry that pregnancy to term.
“I feel for those parents because I understand that they’re in a place of unknown and uncertainty,” Amaradio says. “Maybe we can help save a child’s life by having them see that ‘Hey, life is OK.'”
Of course having a camera crew in your house and with you on your outings took a little bit of getting used to, the couple say.
“I think the first time they were filming Rocco and I alone in the house I was really nervous,” Amaradio says. “I bumped into walls and the crew, they kind of giggled. I was like, ‘Oh, great, did you guys get that?’ And they laughed and said they did.”
But quickly, what was strange became normal.
“Because of the personalities of everyone on the production crew and the producer, they really made it so easy,” Keller says. “We actually miss having them around. And they all love Rocco and treated him so well.”
Rocco is a very social boy, his parents say, and hanging out with the rest of the cast — in addition to the Orange County trio, the regulars include John Tucker, Megan Bomgaars, Elena Ashmore and Cristina Sanz — made him comfortable and happy during shooting days.
“Rocco is drawn to them,” Amaradio says. “It’s almost like he knows that they’re just like him. He just loves them, and they all hug him and kiss him.”
It’s been a year and a half since the couple watched the the show’s debut and life feels good today, they say.
“I was a little scared to watch the show, because I knew I would be getting a glimpse of what Rocco’s life could be like,” Amaradio says. “And I’ve got to be honest, the show gave me hope.”
Adds Keller: “All of the cast members have become good friends of ours and really an inspiration and role model for Rocco. They’re proving to us what we believe — that Rocco’s going to be great.”
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